Fantasy Football Today: Josh Jacobs’ usage highlights downside, plus bust scenarios for every top-12 RB



josh jacobs usatsi

If you thought Josh Jacobs’ price as the No. 23 RB off the board (53.74 ADP overall in NFC ADP) was a discount, I might have agreed with you for most of the offseason. And then Thursday night might’ve changed that.

Because … Jacobs actually played Thursday night. The Raiders played in the Hall of Fame Game, the official kickoff of preseason football, and typically a game where players who matter in Fantasy are a non-factor. But there Jacobs was, playing most of the snaps with the ostensible starters – which means he played with the backups for Derek Carr and Davante Adams, neither of whom actually played.

We know Carr and Adams are integral pieces of the Raiders’ plans this season. Thursday told us that maybe Jacobs isn’t. He played well enough, rushing for 30 yards on five carries, but the fact that he played at all seems to indicate that Jacobs might actually be fighting for a role under this new Raiders regime. They opted not to exercise his fifth-year option in the offseason, so we knew he might not have a place in their long-term plans. But now his presumed role as their clear No. 1 running back doesn’t seem as secure as we thought.

Jacobs might be the quintessential Dead Zone RB for this season. His apparent value is mostly tied into his projected role – at this point, nobody really seems to think he’s a difference-making talent. We’ve been assuming that role had value as the lead back in a good offense, but if you can’t even guarantee that role, what else is left here? 

So, yeah, I’m not buying Jacobs at his current price. Maybe that is a mistake. Maybe the Raiders are putting him in an open competition but they still view him as their best back – motivational tactics, and all that. If that’s the case, we could look back on Jacobs’ role in this game as a Fantasy red herring, something we’ll retroactively acknowledge as a silly narrative we all overreacted to on a night when there was nothing else to do but watch the Jaguars and Raiders backups play sloppy football. 

Or, maybe we’ll remember this as the night when Zamir White – 52 yards on 11 carries, three catches for 23 yards on four targets – first got on most Fantasy players’ radars. The rookie, who missed much of the first week of camp with injuries, showed some nice burst as both a rusher and receiver and stands as the only back on the roster the current decision-making group in Las Vegas actually has an investment in. That investment is just a fourth-round pick, so the rookie out of Georgia is by no means a sure thing. But he was already on my sleeper list, and I’ll be making sure I snag him with one of my last few picks in every draft moving forward. 

That’s just about all you need to know from Thursday’s preseason opener. Next week’s games should tell us even more, though by the standards of the Hall of Fame game, that was a pretty noteworthy event. 

In the rest of today’s newsletter, I’ve taken a handful of your emails for the first #AskFFT mailbag of the preseason – send your emails to [email protected] with the subject line “#AskFFT” to be included in next week’s mailbag – and I’ve also gone through each of the top 12 running backs in ADP to identify what could go wrong for them in 2022. This is not to say that any of them are going to bust, but if they were … this might be what it looked like in the end. 

In case you missed the rest of our running back preview week content, I’ve been talking about the biggest topics at the position all week on the Fantasy Football Today in 5 podcast, and we’ll have our RB preview episodes of the full FFT show available next week, too. As for written content, I think you’ll find the following pieces pretty useful for your draft prep:

And now, here’s how each of the top 12 running backs could ruin your season, plus your questions about the position. 

Bust-case scenarios 

Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor (28) attempts to break the tackle of Detroit Lions cornerback Amani Oruwariye (24) during the first quarter at Ford Field. 
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not saying things will go wrong for all of these high-end running backs … but if they do, here’s why it could happen.

Jonathan Taylor – RB1, 1.13 ADP

Taylor seems about as safe as a running back can be, locked into a high-volume role on a team that wants to run the ball and with basically no track record of injuries dating back to college. A bust season for Taylor probably looks more like a minor letdown – let’s say he drops from 19.5 to 18 carries per game and from 5.5 yards per carry to something like 4.8 – which would still lead to a very impressive 1,468 yards. But if he did that with 10 touchdowns and without an increase in passing game role, you’re talking about a 16.6 point per game average – still obviously excellent, but a bit of a letdown for the near-consensus No. 1 pick. 

Christian McCaffrey – RB2, 3.70 ADP

Injury is obviously the biggest concern with McCaffrey, who has played just 10 games over the past two seasons, but if we’re limiting this to non-injury reasons, the concerns come down to the QB play and how the Panthers might opt to change his usage in light of past injuries. While I do expect Baker Mayfield to be a big improvement on Sam Darnold, early camp reports haven’t exactly been glowing. We’ve seen McCaffrey be an elite Fantasy option with bad QB play, of course, but that was back when he was getting 18 carries and nine targets per game. If it’s more like 15 and seven, McCaffrey could remain a high-end Fantasy option, but in a bad offense with his injury history, it becomes a lot harder to justify the risk. 

Austin Ekeler – RB3, 5.14 ADP 

Ekeler had 25 carries inside the 10-yard line in 2021, more than double his total from the previous two seasons – he had 21 combined in 2019 and 2020. If the Chargers revert to their prior usage of Ekeler, a repeat of his 20 touchdowns looks pretty unlikely. I don’t necessarily think they will suddenly stop using Ekeler near the end zone – he scored 10 times on 16 carries inside the five, a massive rate – but if you’re looking for how Ekeler could disappoint, that’s it. 

Najee Harris – RB4, 6.66 ADP

Harris benefited from Ben Roethlisberger’s quick trigger last season, so while we’re hopeful this Steelers offense will be more effective overall with Mitchell Trubisky and/or Kenny Pickett stepping in for Roethlisberger, it’s not hard to see how things could get worse for Harris. Trubisky is going to be much more willing to scramble than Roethlisberger was, which could cost Harris a couple dozen targets, and if that isn’t made up for by improvements in the offense as a whole, Harris could actually find himself taking a step back in his second season. 

Derrick Henry – RB5, 8.17 ADP

Even without putting re-injury risk on Henry coming off last season’s fractured foot, that injury looms large. Henry is suddenly a 28-year-old, 247-pound running back coming off a missed half-season with a broken foot with over 1,000 carries over the previous three seasons. That’s an awful lot of risk factors stacked on top of one another. The case for Henry in recent years has revolved around his seeming invincibility – sure, he didn’t catch passes, but he was such a different type of player than any other running back in the league that it didn’t matter. That’s a harder case to make now that we’ve seen him get derailed like this. 

Dalvin Cook – RB6, 9.62 ADP

If we’re not talking about injuries, Cook seems pretty unimpeachable – he’s been at 17.9 carries or more per game three straight years and he’s got a role in the passing game. Of course, like with Henry and McCaffrey, you simply can’t talk about Cook without talking about injuries – he’s never played more than 14 games and has had multiple serious injuries to each of his shoulders dating back to college. Even if we’re not talking about injuries, however, the Vikings figure to be much more pass-heavy under new coach Kevin O’Connell, and unless Cook sees an increased role in the passing game, like he had in 2019 when he caught 53 passes, he could struggle to live up to expectations even if healthy. 

Joe Mixon – RB7, 11.96 ADP

At this point, our hopes of Mixon truly taking a big step forward as a pass-catcher seem like a real long shot, so we’re stuck with a back who has never been particularly efficient as a runner and relies heavily on volume. When the volume is there, there isn’t much to complain about, but he could get game-scripted out occasionally, especially if the Bengals become more pass-heavy like many are hoping. Swift seems pretty safe, given how consistently they’ve ridden the running game, so the case against him is more about him lacking the truly elite upside, though. 

D’Andre Swift – RB8, 13.3 ADP

Swift has shown elite upside, like a midwestern Ekeler, but he has also struggled to stay healthy through his two NFL seasons, and it’s fair to wonder if it might be asking too much of the diminutive Swift to be a No. 1 back in the NFL. He came back from his shoulder injury last season to just eight targets and 11 carries in the final two games, and if the Lions decide they need to use him more judiciously to keep him healthy, maybe he ends up more like a glorified Nyheim Hines. 

Javonte Williams – RB9, 15.5 ADP

We spent all of last season pleading with the Broncos to make Williams their clear No. 1 back and it never happened – outside of one magical week when he played 78% of the snaps and had 178 yards and a touchdown. Of course, Melvin Gordon was inactive for that game, and the Broncos re-signed Gordon this offseason, so the concern here is that it’s more of the same. We’re hoping Williams sees a bigger role either way, but apparently in camp it’s been more like a 55-45 split in Williams favor, right around where it was last season. Williams can still be a viable Fantasy option in that split, but he’s going to disappoint at this price if Gordon stays healthy. 

Saquon Barkley – RB10, 20.5 ADP

The past three seasons have shown a lot more ways for things to go wrong for Barkley than right, so I could just point to that and rest my case. At this point, being optimistic about Barkley requires more faith. This could still be a bad offense. Daniel Jones could continue to not look his way in the passing game the way Eli Manning did – because that’s how far back you have to go to find Barkley being an elite Fantasy back. What if he just isn’t the same guy following a torn ACL and several high-ankle sprains? 

Aaron Jones – RB11, 20.5 ADP

I don’t think this is the case, but … what if AJ Dillon is just a better player than Jones at this point? He already started to get more carries than Jones in the second half of last season – a knee injury for Jones serves as a reasonable explanation for that trend, though it’s still noteworthy – and Aaron Rodgers recently praised Dillon’s development in the passing game. We’re thinking Jones will take a big step forward in the passing game to help replace Davante Adams, but what if Jones’ role stays constant and it’s Dillon who is taking on more work? 

Alvin Kamara – RB12, 23.3 ADP

Kamara was RB7 in points per game last season despite the Saints offense being weirdly passive, so in terms of on-the-field concerns, I don’t have many – if they remain in the bottom-third in pass attempts and Michael Thomas, Chris Olave, and Jarvis Landry are all healthy, it could squeeze Kamara’s target share, but even then, he still had a career-high in carries despite missing four games last season, so that isn’t that big of a concern. However, off-the-field considerations loom – Kamara’s felony battery charge trial was postponed, but it’s always possible the NFL decides to come down with some kind of suspension before the trial is finished. That’s the biggest risk here. 

#AskFFT Mailbag


USATSI

Every Friday, I’ll head into the weekend with a mailbag answering reader questions from the previous week. This week, obviously, we’re looking at running back-centric questions. To be included next week, email me at [email protected] with the subject line “#AskFFT” and I’ll try to include it – and if I don’t get to it in the newsletter, I’ll try to respond back to you personally. 

Here’s this week’s mailbag: 

  • John: I am drafting third in a Superflex league. If McCaffery is available when it comes to me, I like everything about him except his durability. Should I take a risk? Why is he rated so highly in most of the pre-season rankings given his history these past two years?

To a certain extent, this comes down to philosophy: I just don’t believe in my ability to accurately predict injuries. So much about Fantasy sports these days can and is driven by metrics and empirical data, but injury analysis mostly remains within the realm of gut feelings and intuitions. 

Of course, that doesn’t mean injuries don’t matter at all – past injury is the best predictor of future injuries. But I tend to be more worried about players rushing back from catastrophic injuries, like Chris Godwin, or players who suffered stress/workload related injuries like Henry, especially if they required surgery, and especially if there isn’t much of a discount for those players coming back from those injuries.

Is there risk with McCaffrey? Of course there is. He’s suffered multiple nagging injuries in each of the past two seasons. But there hasn’t been one recurring issue that has kept him off the field, which makes me suspect his is more in the realm of bad luck than anything else. Running backs are injury magnets, it’s just the nature of the position. McCaffrey might carry more risk than most in his draft range, but nobody else has proven, 30-point-per-game upside. You can without McCaffrey on your team, but if he’s healthy, he gives you the biggest edge in the game.  

  • Hugh: I’ve got my first draft coming up next week and am wondering if Derrick Henry is healthy enough to take from the fifth spot in the first round. I’m the new person in an established league and want to do well so I get invited back next year to rule the league.

Like I wrote above, the question isn’t so much “Is Henry healthy right now?” He is! The question is whether he is a good bet to stay healthy and perform at an elite level. Those questions are related, but Henry is at a point in his career, coming off this injury, where the latter is not necessarily a guarantee, even given the former. Betting against Henry has mostly gone wrong over the past few years, but he still probably needs to be the most productive rusher in the league to justify a No. 5 spot, given how few passes he catches, which means the margin for error is slim. If last year’s injury sapped any of his explosiveness, there’s a decent chance he disappoints. I have Henry as more of an early-second rounder. 

  • Drew: Now that Taysom Hill is a tight end, does that mean he will no longer steal goal line carries from Alvin Kamara? But if he still does, would they make him a top 10 TE?

While the Saints are no longer listing Hill as a QB on their roster, don’t expect him to just not have a role in the offense anymore. They’re still talking about him like a do-everything weapon, which probably still means we’re going to see him near the goal line. As frustrating as that is for Fantasy players, Hill is a unique player with legitimately useful skill set, especially near the goal line. That eats into Kamara’s upside a bit, but it also means you don’t have to worry about Hill starting at quarterback and limiting Kamara’s passing game workload. All in all, it’s a net-positive, especially with already dealing with a rib injury that his him sidelined during training camp. 

I will say, CBS Fantasy recently changed Hill’s primary eligibility to tight end, and while it probably doesn’t matter in your standard 12-team leagues, he’s an interesting end-of-bench stash in deeper (or especially Best Ball) leagues on the off chance he gets a chance to start a few games at QB. 

Allen and Fournette are the obvious keepers, and I think Edwards-Helaire at his price is the obvious fade. I rank the rest in this order: Williams, Brown (there may yet be some punishment coming for his speeding arrest the other day, but it is unlikely to sway his value more than a few rounds), Edmonds, and Penny. So, Penny and CEH are the odd men out. 

  • Aaron: If you had a $200 salary cap and were going to carry four running backs, how much would you allocate for each? 

In a $200 budget league, I’m more likely to spend a higher portion of my budget on high-end players, but I’m not necessarily sure I want to make a specific portion of the budget set aside for just running backs. It depends on how the draft goes. But I’m a believer in the Hero-RB build, so I’d be looking to drop one-third of my budget on a high-end back – McCaffrey remains my ideal, especially since he’ll likely come at a cheaper cost than at least one or two of his peers. Then I’d be looking for some of those backs whose ADP values I like to see if I can snag one cheap. But overall, I’m thinking probably 40%? I want to spend more on my WR than my RB, and I’m OK being the person who spends $15-plus on my QB and TE if I can get a good one. But 40% on running backs should allow me to get one elite one and then spend the rest judiciously.

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